The right word has always mattered. I’m one of those guys who has either frittered away or invested hours tinkering with choices that eventually wind up hatching the right word.
As Mark Twain wrote, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Just about everyone who’s interested in writing knows this Twain quotation, and knows it to be true. But few of us know about a fascinating exchange between Don Henley and John Soeder.
Henley is a founding member of The Eagles. Soeder is a former music writer for The Cleveland Plain Dealer. In 2009, the two of them spoke about the lyrics Henley wrote for the song, “Hotel California.”
“On “Hotel California,” you sing: “So I called up the captain / ‘Please bring me my wine’ / He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.'” I realize I’m probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn’t a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?”
“Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you’re not the first to bring this to my attention—and you’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It’s a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”
That’s what happens when your Mom happens to be an English Lit teacher like Don’s Mom was.
I can’t imagine talking to a client like this when we review a piece of work. Fortunately, I have a better relationship with my clients better than Don Henley seems to have had with John Soeder.
Is Don wound up a bit tight? Did Soeder catch him on a bad day? We don’t know.
But I adore Henley’s spirited response. And Mark Twain probably would have loved it too.